2 Mindanao provinces swamped with gold rush migrants seeking fortune

A new wave of fortune seekers is swamping areas in two Mindanao provinces believed to be rich in gold deposits and has triggered what officials said was a new gold rush that brought with it a host of problems like killings over conflicting small-scale mining claims.

In Zamboanga del Sur, the mayor of Bayog town said more and more people are descending on his town in search of gold in a frenzy that he said was reminiscent of the gold rush in Mt. Diwalwal in the 1980s.

"People are arriving," said Mayor Leonardo Babasa Jr. "It's bustling, like Diwalwal."

Babasa said it was easy to understand the gold rush. Prices of gold could reach 2,100 per gram, he said.

The mayor, however, said the gold rush was giving local officials problems that weren't there before.

"There is an increased report of deaths, either by fighting over an area where to dig or people simply dying due to disasters while digging," Babasa said.

In Compostela Valley, local officials and miners said they believed that the magnet for the influx of fortune seekers are mainly reports of newly discovered gold veins in the mountain of Diwalwal more than reports of rising prices of gold in the world market.

Arturo Uy, Compostela Valley governor, said more small- and large-scale miners are flocking to the province's 11 towns because of reports of better prospects of finding gold.

"The discovery of supposed rich deposits is the main driving force," Uy said in a recent interview.

He said, however, that his province benefited from the spike in gold prices. Gold is bought in Tagum City for 1,900 to 2,000 per gram.

Eric Luzon, a miner in the gold-rich village of Pamintaran in Maragusan town, said at least 3,000 people have flocked to the village and started digging for gold since June.

"Some portions have good deposits but you have to dig deeper," said Luzon. Many miners, he said, get financing from businessmen in Tagum to sustain their operations.

"What we're after is rich, shallow gold deposits," he said.

Uy said to prevent a repeat of deadly conflicts in previous gold rush episodes, the province has been regulating the operations of both small- and large-scale mining in nine towns.

Mayors, he said, constantly monitor gold rush sites to enforce ordinances on safe mining practices.

In Compostela town, new gold prospects in the community of Bango in Ngan village drew hundreds of people to the area. Workers in banana plantations and other "nonminers" have joined the frenzy, said Mayor Jessie Bolo.

"We really cannot control these people," said Bolo. All that town officials could do, he said, was to enforce rules to reduce mine wastes and prevent pollution. Mining in his town, he said, had been an on-off thing since gold was discovered there in the early 1980s.

In the capital town of Nabunturan, officials are trying to prevent small-scale miners encroaching into the Mainit National Park, which is now threatened by pollution from mine tailings.

A gold rush area in the village of Mainit has been shut down due to complaints from residents and environment officials, said a staffer at the office of Mayor Romeo Clarin. "But they keep coming back," said the staffer, who asked not to be identified.

Governor Uy said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources was "amenable" to a proposal to delineate portions of the national park as mining areas. "We've learned harsh lessons," said Uy

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